Engaging the Community at Large - Part 2

Tonight at FredWebTech we discussed how Frederick has attempted to build a tech community and how we can continue to grow a tech community for both the Frederick area and the Easter Panhandle.

We discussed the fact that EP is the fastest growing area of the State of West Virginia, about half the population holds a job out of state, and according to WVU and BLS projections the Eastern Panhandle is ~320% behind the national average in tech employment growth.

We discussed some of things that Frederick has done with organizations like Tech Frederick and FITCI. I got the impression that most people felt that these organizations have done little to actually attract job applicants and tech companies to the Frederick area. I got the impression that Frederick's largest advantage over the EP is simply its proximity to DC and Baltimore.

Some people felt that we should meet the community where it is. The Eastern Panhandle is in fact an excellent bedroom community. There is nothing wrong with that. We don't necessarily need to figure out how to create a tech hub or attract the next Google or Microsoft. What we must do is continue to grow and build each other up. We need to make sure that the community is a great place to live and learn. If you do this, the startups and high-tech companies will come.

In my mind, what we actually need to do is two things:

  1. Pick your favorite non-technical club or organization and get involved. Anything you can do to make your community a better place to live will help the tech community grow.
  2. Continue to do absolutely everything you can think of to drum up interest about the technical issues

The EP faces many challenges. To evangelize technology is an uphill battle. I know that our group cannot do it alone. I know that if I continue to talk about it with anyone willing to listen, eventually I'll be in the right place with someone who can effect greater positive change.

Tags: community, economic growth, eastern panhandlecd

Engaging the Community at Large

As promised, I spent 30 minutes tonight before the main presentation at Panhandle Web Tech Meetup Group gauging the group's interest in engaging the community at large. This idea was received very well. The group provided some excellent ideas. I asked three questions:

  1. Why should we engage the community at large?
  2. How can the group engage the community?
  3. How can you as individual engage the community?

The line between group and individual ideas blur together. But here is a summary:


My thoughts before the discussion:

  • To increase awareness
  • To help entrepreneurs and startups
  • To attract jobs

Discussion Summary:

  • We need to drum up interest, to make sure people understand why they should care

As a Group we can...

My thoughts before the discussion:

  • Hold Workshops
  • Sponsor Hackathons
  • Be a place to share ideas

Discussion Summary:

  • We can select community projects to work on and learn at the same time
  • We can build small classed based on different Tech Subjects
  • Find small projects to help local businesses improve there web presence

As an individual I can:

My thoughts before the discussion:

  • Join a non-technical club or organization
  • Talk about the tech community in the eastern panhandle
  • Be a mentor
  • Talk to lawmakers and government officials

Discussion Summary:

  • Talk to youth at church about tech
  • Donate my charity day and encourage others to do the same

Side notes:

  • One person pointed out that a lot of people who commute do not see this area as their community. Its just a place they sleep. I don't know how true that is, but it is a sad thought. We need to figure out a way to get more commuters involved in the meetup group.
  • Another person asked the question: Should we be doing something to attract more minorities and women? I pointed out that I am nether of those things, therefore I couldn't truly understand what those efforts would be. I do know that we should have 0% tolerance for jerks and make sure we provide a safe and open environment. If individuals in the group have ideas, the group should do everything to support that effort. This view point may be misguided. I'm open to being corrected here.

Great discussion and ideas. Let's act to gain momentum for tech growth in the eastern panhandle.

Tuesday, May 5th I will be at FredWebTech for a discussion to explore what the Frederick tech community has done to engage the community at large. Open to everyone, please join the discussion!

Tags: community, economic growth, eastern panhandle

#WHMeetup: My Takeaway and Tech Growth in the Panhandle

I spent Friday April 17th at the first ever Tech Meetup at the White House as a representative of Panhandle Web Tech Meetup Group, a Tech Meetup I started at the beginning of this year in Martinsburg, WV. For those of you who don't know, a Tech Meetup is group of people in the technology field get together to share knowledge and talk shop. At the White House, We spent the day discussing a wide range of topics such as:

  • How to run a better meetup
  • How to provide economic opportunity to under-served populations
  • How to engage with less technical people
  • How to encourage diversity in the community
  • Efforts of government and organizations around the country to encourage interest in tech with young people

The gentleman that conducted the meetup encouraged everyone to share actions they wanted to take as result of the meetup. At the time, I had some ideas for activities that our group could do to help each other learn and get our families involved with the group.

I spent the next 2 days at Virginia Beach for an "Elite Retreat" for my wife's business of selling essential oils through dōTERRA. I met some really hard workers. People who have built a business on helping people sell an experience though holistic applications of essential oils. There where a lot of pep-talks and team building exercises. Anyone who knows me knows that I am typically an introvert. This experience really took me out of my comfort zone. However, it showed me that I am capable of connecting with people. The self-help style of pep talks made reflect further upon the meetup at the White House. This extended weekend was a catalyst for an AHA! moment on the drive home.

AHA! Berkeley County is the FASTEST GROWING county in the state of West Virginia. We all know that most people either work from home or commute to city. WHERE ARE ALL THE TECH JOBS???? Opportunity is extremely limited in the area. I strongly believe that we (the meetup group) need to find a way to engage with the community at large to figure out how to bring more opportunity to the area. This Tuesday, I am going to spend 15-30 minutes before the main presentation giving a high level overview of the White House meetup and gauge the group's interest in trying to figure out how we can engage with the community to encourage economic growth.

I don't know what our little meetup group can do to affect economic growth. But I do know that someone needs to be a cheerleader for bringing tech jobs to the area. To be fair, such organizations and individuals might already exist. I have yet to find any.

Martinsburg and Berkeley County is uniquely positioned to become a little tech hub. Our close proximity to Baltimore and DC means that we already have a large workforce that currently commutes. We have many brand new office buildings on the north end of Martinsburg that sit half empty. We have large abandoned buildings downtown. We need some sort of a catalyst to show the world that we have a tech community. Startups need to know that there is a work pool here that can help them build their products. Existing companies need to know that there is inexpensive property and a strong community that can provide a skilled workforce.

I'm sharing this with you because I feel passionate about this. I'm going to make this happen so long as the Eastern Panhandle is my home. I am tired of new bars, strip clubs and gambling parlors. Imagine that abandoned house becoming a tech startup instead of a used car lot. Imagine that empty field becoming a satellite site for a fortune 500 tech company instead of a polluting factory. Imagine that old factory becoming a Tech Center instead of rotting away and attracting graffiti. We can do this. We can show the world that Martinsburg and the Eastern Panhandle is serious about participating in the tech economy.

Tags: whmeetup, community, economic growth, eastern panhandle, white house